A conviction of a crime may have far-reaching consequences, both criminal and civil. When a person is convicted of a crime, the sentence imposed by the judge contains the criminal consequences, which may include imprisonment, probation, fines, and other punishments. Additional consequences, often called civil or collateral consequences, also flow from conviction of a crime, but they ordinarily are separate from the criminal sentence—they may arise automatically from the conviction and not be specifically imposed or even mentioned at sentencing in the criminal case. Collateral consequences may be imposed by state or federal law and may include ineligibility for a professional license, loss of the right to possess a firearm, and other disabilities and disqualifications. Some are mandatory, such as the loss of the right to vote following a felony conviction; some are discretionary, such as the revocation of a professional license by a licensing agency. The Collateral Consequences Assessment Tool (C-CAT), a free online research tool created by the School of Government, contains detailed information about the collateral consequences imposed by North Carolina law. Some collateral consequences are not mentioned in the law but occur because of how others may view a criminal record. For example, although not required by law to do so, an employer may decide not to hire a person because of a criminal conviction.[1] Landlords, colleges, and other entities may react similarly.

This guide reviews the mechanisms available under North Carolina law for obtaining relief from the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. It focuses on expunctions, certificates of relief, and petitions to restore rights or eliminate restrictions. In addition, it discusses pardons, motions for appropriate relief, and innocence determinations. This guide does not review procedures that may be available before specific boards, commissions, or agencies for restoring or maintaining a right or benefit.

This guide does not attempt to answer all of the possible questions that readers may have about North Carolina relief mechanisms. Common questions are discussed in this guide in Appendixes: Frequently Asked Questions.

This guide contains hyperlinks to forms, opinions, selected statutes, and other free online resources. North Carolina statutes also can be viewed on the General Statutes page of the North Carolina General Assembly’s website. Federal statutes may be found on various websites, including the U.S. Code page of the website of the Legal Information Institute of Cornell University Law School. Court decisions and legal reference materials that do not contain a link were located through fee-based legal research services, but they may be accessible online elsewhere.

This guide does not purport to provide legal advice in individual cases. Readers should refer to relevant parts of the North Carolina General Statutes and other laws and seek advice from a qualified attorney as needed.


[1] See, e.g., Michael G. Okun & John Rubin, Employment Consequences of a Criminal Conviction in North Carolina, Popular Gov’t, Winter 1998, at nn.4–11 and accompanying text. An employer’s use of criminal history information in making employment decisions is unlawful if it has a disparate impact on minorities or others protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and does not come within a permissible exception. See U.S. Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n, EEOC Enforcement Guidance No. 915.002, Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Apr. 25, 2012).